Ovarian cancer is the 9th most common cancer among women according to the American Cancer Society, with approximately 22,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Due to the lack of outward symptoms, ovarian cancer is particularly deadly, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
Now, however, researchers feel it may be possible to predict a woman’s ovarian cancer survival rate through a new DNA screening process.
“We are providing a new tool,” Jason H. Bielas, a cancer geneticist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and lead researcher of the study, told Live Science.
“This is a big step forward to accurately count how many [immune cells] have infiltrated into the tumor.”
Depicting the number of cells through the new QuanTILfy test
Using a technology called QuanTILfy, experts are able to count the number of cells called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in a cancer patient’s tumor biopsy.
This number indicates how strong a patient’s immune response is to the cancer present in their system; the more TILs, the better an individual’s chances of surviving past the five-year mark.
Out of the subjects in the study, experts found the number of immune cells indicated by the DNA test was threefold higher in patients who lived for more than five years after their cancer diagnosis, compared with those who lived less than two years with ovarian cancer.
“Our experiments demonstrate an association between higher TIL counts and improved survival among women with ovarian cancer, and are consistent with prior observations that the immune response against ovarian cancer is a meaningful and independent prognostic factor,” said Bielas to e!Science News.
“While variations in the measurement and characterization of TILs have limited their clinical utility as biomarkers of survival, our results highlight the significant translational potential of a robust, standardized, DNA-based assay to assess TILs in a variety of cancer types, including ovarian.”
Women who undergo the new DNA screen have biopsies screened digitally for TILs; the tumor cells are identified by capturing the genetic information of unique proteins carried on their surface.
Of the 30 ovarian cancer patients involved in the research, higher TIL numbers correlated with better survival.
“Now that we have the sensitivity and ability to reproducibly count TILs in tumors, we may be able to stratify and more effectively treat patients based on tumor TIL count,” Bielas said.
Ovarian cancer is most common in women over the age of 63, and affects non-Hispanic white women more commonly than other ethnicities.
While the rate of ovarian cancer has been declining in recent years, approximately 14,000 individuals lose their lives to this condition every year. Early detection is key, and treatment most often involves surgical removal of the affected ovary.